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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

 

Question 1: Are sanctions against Iraq justified?

While the question 'Are sanctions against Iraq justified?' does not generally elicit an outrageous response (it is in fact the title of many learned debates), a rewording of this question to 'Is it justified to starve the Iraqi population in order to bring pressure on the Iraqi Government?' would certainly elicit a different reaction. And if this question would furthermore be reworded to 'Is it justified to cause 600,000 children to die in order to force Iraq to disarm?,' outrageous fabrications; it reflects the tragic reality. A UN FAO 1995 report stated that one million Iraqi civilians have died as result of the UN sanctions, half of whom are children under the age of five.

In addition, the common formulation 'Sanctions against Iraq' is a semantic obfuscation. Sanctions cannot be imposed on a 'country', only on people. More appropriate would have been the wording 'Sanctions against the Iraqi population'. But this formulation is not used as it would reveal too much against whom the sanctions are directed.

 

Question 2: Are the sanctions effective in forcing the Iraqi government to abide by UN demands? Is the human price paid by the sanctions too high ?

To put effectiveness in the center of the debate necessarily puts the ethical dimension on the side. An example of this approach in its purest implementation can illustrate this principle. It would be most effective for a society to exterminate all those who do not contribute to active production, such as delinquents, chronically ill and lazy people. But no civilized society uses only effectiveness as criteria to determine policies. The first question, by ignoring the 'human cost' of the sanctions, reflects a criminal approach.

The second question appears to include an ethical dimension. By rewording it, the existence of a cynical calculus reveals itself: 'How many lives is it worth to sacrifice for the sake of a particular aim'? Those who employ such a calculus hardly include their own lives or those of their kin, but intend to sacrifice lives of other people, either soldiers under their command or aliens, defined as enemies, the lives of whom they believe they can expend with impunity.

 

Question 3: Under what conditions can the Security Council impose collective coercive measures against a member state?

In order to do so, the Security Council must first formally determine the existence of a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression. It is evident, with regards to the immense power conferred upon the Security Council, that the Council cannot casually make such determinations. The threat to the peace must, in order to justify coercive action under Article 41 of the Charter, be of such a degree as to place the continuation of world peace in jeopardy, so that action is immediately necessary in order to maintain peace and security.

After the sovereignty of Kuwait was restored in 1991, the Iraqi army defeated and the economic infrastructure of Iraq reduced to rubble, no case was made nor could one be made, that an imminent threat to world peace emanates from Iraq, necessitating the most draconian enforcing measures against any nation in the history of the United Nations. Articles 41 and 42 of the Charter, permitting collective coercive measures against member states, cannot be justified by invoking a hypothetical future threat.

 

Question 4: It is claimed that the Security Council fulfills its obligations under international humanitarian law by excepting food and medicines from the trade sanctions. Is this claim correct?

Under the terms of the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 and their Additional Protocol of 1977, it is prohibited to indiscriminately attack civilian populations. Moreover it is prohibited to starve civilian populations as an act of war.

In theory, the humanitarian exception clauses, would fulfill the minimal requirements of international humanitarian law. But in practice the Security Council made the enjoyment of these peremptory rights conditional upon the fulfillment of a set of measures by the Government of Iraq.

In order to strictly fulfill requirements of international humanitarian law with regards to the civilian population of Iraq, there are only two alternatives: Either to lift the blanket trade sanctions against the Iraqi people or to ensure by other means the physical integrity and well-being of the civilian population in Iraq.

More to the point is the fact that any significant restriction of civil trade in today's technology-dependent world, including spare parts for water-purification facilities, parts for electric generators, computers, technical manuals, etc. can gravely affect the operations of the infrastructure necessary for maintaining a civilian society alive. Thus, by exempting food and medicines from the trade sanctions the Iraqi people are treated as animals, for whom it is sufficient to ensure mere survival.

 

Question 5: It is claimed that the United Nations Resolution 986 (food-for-oil deal) provides a solution to the crisis within Iraq. Is this claim correct?

United Nations Resolution 986 (UNR 986) has never provided a solution to the drastic crisis now occurring within Iraq. Its passage has given the impression to the world community that the situation is now improving; this impression is completely false. The resolution, which has been delayed at each step of implementation, provides for only a small fraction of the needs of the Iraqi people.

UNR 986 technically allows Iraq to buy $1.3 billion of humanitarian food and medicine from the $2 billion of Iraqi oil sales. However, out of the 500 humanitarian contracts put forth for approval by the UN, only 28 contracts worth $27 million have been accepted by the UN. Clearly, the implementation of food and medicine contracts is being deliberately blocked.

Even though Iraq's health system is near complete collapse, not a single tablet or injection had reached Iraq from the UN "oil-for-food deal" by May 1997. In addition, medical donations, which provided around 8-10% of Iraqi's medical needs, have stopped arriving after the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in May 1996 between the UN and Iraq on the technicalities of the UNR 986 deal. UNR 986 provides for meager amounts of food and medicine, and says nothing of the infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt in order for human health to be restored.

Iraq's electrical production and telecommunications systems have been badly damaged. The transportation system has been critically damaged by massive bombing of bridges and lack of fuel due to sanctions and bombing of Iraq's oil refining centers. The lack of fuel seriously impairs Iraq's ability to use generators as alternative sources of electrical power. The destruction of bridges, traditionally used by civilians, has hampered the transport of medical supplies.

These factors have severely affected health care. Health care facilities throughout Iraq have limited access to electrical power. Many health centers lack intra-facility telephone service. Without electricity, most of the technology of modern health care cannot be used: laboratory services, blood banking, culturing of media, sterilization of equipment, storing of medicines, radiography equipment...

The primary health care threat is that of gastro-intestinal disease caused by water-born infectious illnesses resulting from consumption of contaminated or inadequately treated water. The water supply in Baghdad has been drastically reduced - primarily as a result of lack of power needed to move water through pipe systems and purification systems. Plants producing aluminum phosphate and chlorine gas have been destroyed by bombing and sewage treatment plants severely damaged. In Baghdad, barely half of the water treatment plants are functioning. Approximately 95 per cent of Iraq's population had access to clean drinking water before the Gulf war, compared to 21 per cent currently.

Seventy percent of the seeds used for Iraq's agriculture were imported. The machines utilized in agriculture need spare parts for maintenance. Neither the spare parts, nor even agricultural seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers, are allowed to be imported into Iraq.

Major United Nations agencies including the WHO, UNICEF, WFP and the FAO have all documented beyond question the effects that the UN sanctions are having on the Iraqi people. By imposing an indiscriminate trade ban against the entire Iraqi population, the Permanent Members of the Security Council, led by the United States of America, display a criminal callousness for human lives. A removal of all UN sanctions against Iraq must occur immediately.


Iraq Sanctions Medical Alert Group

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